Local Fashion Spotlight: Designer Rachelle Marie Willnus of Derby Hats by Rachelle


This headpiece put Rachelle Marie Willnus on the map as winner of the Head-To-Head Hat Competition at Michigan F.A.S.H. Fest 2012.  Photo credit: Jennifer Alder


Today we are proud to feature a most talented designer that is making HUGE waves in the local fashion scene in Detroit.  Rachelle Marie Willnus, owner and lead designer of Derby Hats by Rachelle, creates stunning custom headpieces that have been featured in magazines, museums, and movies- locally, nationally and globally!  Rachelle’s grace and love for beauty is clear in her personality and work.  She is such a joy to speak to and collaborate with.  Learn more about her background, amazing accomplishments, and future design plans in this exclusive interview!


This headpiece was made for a fairy-inspired photo shoot.  The piece is currently on display in the Detroit Historical Museum in the Fashion D.Fined Exhibit featuring Detroit area designers who represent the past, present and future of Detroit Fashion.    Photographer: Jennifer Alder           Model: Lia Morse                  Headwear and dress: Rachelle Marie Willnus

When did you begin making headpieces and knew this is what you were meant to do?

I have been designing and creating hats and hat fascinators since 2009.  I started out my career in life as an Instructional Systems Designer – creating training programs for engineers at Ford. I suppose the design gene was always there…My background in Instructional Systems Design is helpful in hat making because I understand FORM to FUNCTION to FIT. Not every headpiece will look good on every person, but every person can look good in a headpiece designed for their headshape…That is where I come in.

I began working at Ford Motor Company when I was 19. My manufacturing design background made for an easy transition into hat design; which also requires a strong knowledge of design, shape, and form. As with engineering design, hat designers must be able to assess fit of product (e.g. client’s face and head shape with hat size and function). Any woman can wear a hat or fascinator – It’s about finding the best design to compliment the shape of the face and head size of the wearer.


What do you love most about your job as a designer?

I have been fortunate enough to be have my work showcased in local, national, and international magazines. From local Styleline Magazine to national Solis Magazine – New York and then to KEEL Magazine – International.  This Fall 2016, I will be showcasing three pieces at New York Fashion Week in a Collaboration with designer Mila Pershyna.

I am also proud to announce that my daughter has begun working with me.  Savannah, age 13, began making fascinators with me last year.  She has since begun designing her own line of jeweled hair combs for young women.


I currently have a bridal line and a derby hat line for women. I [plan] to expand my business this year to include jeweled headpieces, a children’s line with my daughter Savannah, couture year round wear, and church hats.



Savannah Willnus, 13, in a custom creation.


This is my daughter’s first client, Lia.  Savannah designed and created her hair comb for prom.


What is your customer like and what do they wear? What are they interested in?

It’s difficult for me to define this because I feel this career chose me….I love creating pieces that make women feel beautiful. I believe that life is a show and we are meant to dress for it

What my client is like.. My client is someone who enjoys fashion, but most of all…appreciates fashion. My clients are women who want something different – who want to push the boundaries of fashion with couture appeal


What are your current favorite styles for Summer?

I love jeweled pieces for everyday wear. Something in the hair suggests femininity and grace. Traditional lines.


Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your designs?

I was the Winner of the Head-to-Head Hat Competition at Michigan Fash Fest 2012. Derby Hats by Rachelle has been featured as a StyleLine Magazine Editor’s choice for headwear (2012, 2013, and 2014). Marie Rachelle (bridal line) has been featured by StyleLine Magazine as a trendsetter in bridal headwear for 2012, 2013, and 2014. Designed and created a one-of-a-kind costume headpiece for Simona Rodano, popular Italian actress and singer, for the 2012 Columbus Day Parade, which aired on ABC. My designs have been featured several times in The Metro You, Detroit News, StyleLine Magazine, Modern Model Magazine, The Metropolitan Detroit, Cover of Farmington Hills Life, SOLIS Magazine in New York, KEEL Magazine – International.  Derby Hats by Rachelle has been featured at State of MInd Gallery in Northville. Derby Hats by Rachelle was the featured designer at L.K. Bennett (2014 Somerset Collection). My designs have also been featured at many fashion shows and charity events, they are also featured and for sale at the Detroit Opera House. Finally, I designed the crowns for the upcoming Spring 2016 feature film ‘Crowning Jules’ by Lucas Miles which stars Jacqueline and Elizabeth Labadie.



These are the two crowns I made for the Lucas Miles feature film, ‘Crowing Jules’ to be released in Fall 2016.  Actresses are Jacqueline and Elizabeth Labadie.


Other features showcasing Derby Hats and Custom Creations by Rachelle:


This series was part of a Bridal Confliction series I shot with Janna Coumoundouros and Joan Lutz at the Detroit Institute of Art. Photography: Janna    Model: Joan. Headwear: Rachelle Dress: Janna.

These were shots from a Dark Beauty shoot we did a few years ago. Some of these photos were featured in Best of the Best edition of SOLIS Magazine New York 2015.  Photographer: Janna Coumoundouros   Model: Joan Lutz   MUA: Stacey Manuel   Styling: Marv Neal


Interested in a Custom Headpiece? Contact Rachelle!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s